Navigating online engagement through Social Media platforms takes wisdom. All of us have seen this tool used to build and to tear down!
As I mentioned in the first part of this discussion, we need to be aware of the limitations and weigh the risk and responsibility of it. This will require careful consideration as to HOW we should represent our Christian convictions and uphold truth, while remaining mindful of the potential harm or good our words could inflict.
This is not to say that we should embrace a “careful is always better” posture; agitation has a place at the table, if we intend to be agents of change in the world around us.
Justice for All (Platforms)
In matters of Justice, we can turn to Proverbs 31:8-9,
“Open your mouth for those with no voice, for the cause of all the dispossessed. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the poor and needy.”
The scriptures tell us we cannot be silent about issues of justice!
Even with the biblical text to guide us, we will see that some issues are very clear while others take a process of careful consideration and discernment, wading through intersections of perspective, ethics, and complicated systems. Make sure you do the proper work of discerning correctly if you are going to engage online.
Once an issue of injustice has been decided (ideally in the context of a community), then you are free to utilize any and every platform at your disposal to speak out. Indeed, Proverbs implies that you have an obligation to speak out and your social media is a part of your extended reach and social influence. Of course, you should be aware, that anytime truth speaks to power, opposition will rise up. You must be ready to encounter conflict in its’ public and muted form. Again, this can result in miscommunication, passionate comment debates, and “unfriending/unfollowing.” (Still, justice issues push me to engage.)
I believe you should be committed to justice in all areas of your life including your online persona.
Every act of justice, and speaking out on behalf of the oppressed, involves risk and this may very well be the cost of seeking justice in our day and age.
For example, as a part of my biblical conviction, I have committed to anti-racist actions, such as confronting racial micro-aggressions when I see them. There is a LOT of this on social media. I have to decide to either confront or look the other way. But why would l allow the online extension of myself get a “pass” in this area of my life, when I don’t allow it anywhere else?
Looking the other way, even on social media, is still looking the other way, which shows a lack of conviction and of courage.
I encourage you not to look away when it involves issues of justice; I believe the risk is worth consideration because silence on social media, like any medium, allows injustice to be the loudest voice. While avoiding the use of social media for issues of justice allows you to avoid the tension, perhaps you are avoiding an opportunity for advocacy.
Equity For All (Platforms)
It is also important for us to remember one of the benefits of social media is that it has the potential to be a platform for opinions that would not have an outlet otherwise.
As a pastor, I have a weekly platform wherein I try to represent the Scriptures, God, and my church community well. I am remiss to believe it is done without my fallible opinions and perspective included. The overall assumption is that I have been vetted by my elders, credentialed by my ordination, and a calling has been discerned by a faith community but…I am still fallible. Additionally, this authority comes with power dynamics that can be leveraged even when I am wrong (once again Pharaoh comes to mind). Because leaders, in general, are not immune to diplomacy that can override their convictions, and they are often tempted to vie for “false unity” instead of the hard work necessary to seek Shalom and Justice.
But, social media is available to everyone and allows all to have a platform. Social media has the capacity to give a voice to the voiceless. It opens opportunities for others to hear perspectives from the margins who have been systematically barred from platforms of authority that are perceived as more credible by the majority.
At a previous church, there was a congregation member who was outspoken on social media about her disagreement with certain political candidates/positions. There was plenty of online sharing to promote the popular white evangelical assumptions, so she began posting with the intention of providing an alternative perspective. While she wasn’t rude, there was a measure of force behind her posts that she deemed prudent in order to be heard and to be able to create a contraflow against the current of the majority. She confronted racism, misogyny, and prejudice (often sanctioned by white evangelicalism) that was flooding the timelines and feeds. It stirred up a flurry of conversation, which turned into criticism, and anger. Eventually, she was told by leadership (and even pastors on staff at our church) that it was unwise for her to use Social Media to speak out about her disagreement – because it was “divisive.”
At first, I considered this to be wisdom and thought “maybe they are right and social media is the wrong place for this.” When we talked, she was kind enough to remind me that online platforms were her only form of speaking out; they were her pulpit when her opinions were not being represented in the pulpit at her church. She explained that Pastors have a public platform every Sunday wherein they inevitably give their opinions and speak out when they feel it is necessary or they fortify the status quo through their silence. While her opinion was unpopular in that context, I realized her opposing posts were factual in their claims and aligned with her biblical convictions (which were justice issues). I also realized I was participating in the oppression.
In the end, what she posted wasn’t the problem, they just disagreed with her opinion and had enough of a majority opinion on their side that they could frame her as “off-base, divisive, or unbiblical.” It was in this context that I learned how veiled forms of “wisdom” and “unity” could be used to silence minority opinions and oppress them. Even if their intentions weren’t nefarious, it was a display of “negative peace.” Just as Martin Luther King said, these leaders seemed to be “more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
It is for these reasons I cannot advise people to simply abstain from Social Media with their opinions altogether.
Is If Fruitful?
This question is difficult to answer because there is no way to measure conclusive evidence on such subjective content. Even attempts to measure the validity of “Hashtag Activism” and perceptions of “making a difference” with social media seem indefinite through Pew Research.
There will likely be a cost/benefit analysis in your mind as you process what and how you utilize Social Media, but I have seen anecdotal evidence that suggests the efforts are not wasted. I regularly receive messages, comments, and DM’s telling me that something I shared was helpful, encouraging me to continue, and thanking me for my allyship.
When I post:
- I attempt to frame my words with kindness so that, even when I say hard things, I do so with “smile.”
- I also like to ask questions that prod at people’s thought processes instead of making statements of accusation.
- I try my best to control the tone, though nobody likes to hear hard things and you won’t be 100% successful.
- I also attempt to meet offline if the other person seems willing to have deeper conversation; in doing so, I am able to reclaim some of the communication lost through Social Media.
- I choose my battles of engagement.
I have seen healthy dialogue online, and I have witnessed people move from resistance to listening.
Utilize the Tool
One thing I believe to be true – silence rarely changes peoples’ minds. As a result, I won’t acquiesce to silence especially when there is so much non-truth, sexism, and white supremacy flowing through the veins of online Social Networks.
You can’t get rid of sickness without confronting it, and the procedure to make people well often involves incision before the recovery.
Social media is the new technology in a long line of inventions that can and should be claimed for the sake of the gospel. Let’s be wise, discerning, courageous, and informed by the Holy Spirit as we attempt to utilize Social Media Platforms now and in the seasons to come!
I encourage you, again, to check out my friends at the Gravity Leadership Podcast. Their perspective on this issue is enlightening and should be considered when engaging online!
Questions to ask before Engaging in a Social Media:
- Are you considering the “public” nature of your thoughts?
- Are you working to overcome the “muted” nature of your text?
- Do you tend to engage or look the other way when you see micro-aggressions, sexism, and racism online? Why or why not?
- Have you participated in silencing or oppressing others under the guise of “wisdom” and “unity” online or elsewhere? Do you need to confess this and make things right?
- Do you believe engaging online and through social media is fruitful? Why or why not?
- For protective purposes (both you and others) do you need to take a break from Social Media?